By: Staffan Burenstam Linder
The following two chapters are from Linder’s The Harried Leisure Class, NY.
Columbia U press, 1970. niversity
Till now man has been up against Nature; from now on he will be up against his own nature.
Dennis Gabor, Inventing the Future
Good-by, Sir, excuse me, I haven’t time.
I’ll come back, I can’t wait, I haven’t time.
I must end this letter – I haven’t time.
I’d love to help you, but I haven’t time
I can’t accept, having no time.
I can’t think, I can’t read, I am swamped, I haven’t time
I’d like to pray, but I haven’t time.
The Paradoxes of Affluence
We have always expected one of the beneficent results of economic affluence to be a tranquil and harmonious manner of life, a life in
. What has happened is the exact opposite. The pace is quickening, and our lives in fact are becoming steadily more hectic. It used to be assumed that, as the general welfare increased, people would become successively less interested in further rises in income. And yet in practice a still higher economic growth rates has become the overriding goal of economic policy in the rich countries, and the goal also of our private efforts and attitudes. At the same time, much of our expenditure is no longer subject to any very careful consideration, as is clear from the successes noted by Madison Avenue. A growing proportion of the labor force is employed in the service sector, but in spite of this, our resources are in fact less well “serviced” or maintained than ever. It is becoming increasingly difficult, for instance, for elderly people to obtain the special kind of service – care and attention – that they very much need. Our so-called service economy practices in reality a throw-away system at all levels, including the human level. We have long expressed hopes that the elimination of material cares would clear the way for a broad cultural advancement. In practice, not even those endowed with the necessary intellectual and emotional capacity have shown any propensity for immersing themselves in the cultivation of their minds and spirit. The tendency is rather the reverse. Arcadia
These are but a few examples of the surprising phenomena occurring in the rich countries. They seem paradoxical, as they fail to fit into the picture of affluence which we have painted. The cause of these and similar modern anomalies lies in a circumstance that has been entirely ignored, namely the increasing scarcity of time. The limited availability of time and the increasing claims made on it mean that our affluence is only partial and not total as we seem to believe. Our affluence takes only the form of access to goods. The idea of “total affluence” is a logical fallacy.
Time as a Scarce Commodity
In the natural sciences, the concept of time offers its particular mysteries. The ultimate implications of time, however, are a problem upon which we need not linger. It will be sufficient for our purposes to accept that there exists what we experience as a time dimension – a moving belt of time units which makes resources of time available to the individual as it passes. Time, unlike other economic resources, cannot be accumulated. We cannot build up a stock of time as we build up a stock of capital. As it passes, however, time puts into people’s hands something that they can use. In economic terms, there exists a certain “supply of time”.
But there is also a certain “demand for time”. Time can be used by individuals in work, with a view to acquiring various goods. Time can also be used in consumption, i. e., the process in which goods are combined with time, in attempts to achieve the ultimate utility in the economic process – material and spiritual well-being. It is important to realize that consumption requires time just as does production. Such pleasures as a cup of coffee or a good stage play are not in fact pleasurable, unless we can devote time to enjoying them.
The scarcity of commodity is determined by the supply in relation to the demand. Such a scarcity is normally reflected in the price. The demand for gold is high in relation to the supply, and gold, therefore, attracts a considerable price. The supply of sea water, on the other hand, is extremely great in relation to the demand, and sea water accordingly attracts no price at all. As regards the commodity in which we are interested, namely time, we have already noted that there is a certain supply and a certain demand. We can now add that the demand by individuals is usually sufficiently high in relation to the supply to make time a “scarce commodity” in the economic sense. But if time is an economic utility in short supply, then it must be subject to the economic laws that prevail in the economist’s universe. It must be distributed over its different sectors of use – different activities – in accordance with the general principles of economics.
When spending money, one presumably tries to balance one’s expenditures in such a way as to obtain the best possible yield. This means that one will probably refrain from spending all one’s assets on a single commodity. One will instead distribute one’s expenditure over a variety of different goods and services. The optimum situation will have been reached when it is impossible to increase satisfaction by reducing expenditure in one field and making a corresponding increase in another. A more technical description of this condition of equilibrium would be to say that the marginal utility of one dollar must be the same in all different sectors of expenditure.
In the same way, one tries to economize with one’s time resources. They must be so distributed as to give an equal yield in all sectors of use. Otherwise, it would pay to transfer time from an activity with a low yield to one with a high yield and to continue to do this until equilibrium had been reached.
Some of my readers may object, perhaps, that this is a somewhat gross description of how people function. A moment’s reflection, however, will reveal that if the reader should for this reason put down the book, such a reaction is in itself evidence that people actually try to allocate their time in order to achieve a maximum yield. Such a reader has the impression that it would be a waste of time to spend a couple of hours reading this essay and, therefore, decides to devote his time to some other, and he hopes better, pursuit.
The Increasing Scarcity of Time
The yield on time spent working increases as the result of economic growth. Productivity per hour rises. This means that the time allocation which has represented equilibrium at our previous level of income is disrupted. The yield on time devoted to other activities must also be raised. We are aware that time in production becomes increasingly scarce with economic growth. What we will now claim in addition to this is that changes in the use of time will occur, so that the yield on time in all other activities is brought into parity with the yield on working time. In other words, economic growth entails a general increase in the scarcity of time.
The necessary increase in the yield of time in the nonwork activities can take place in many different ways. To some extent we try to achieve a change in attitudes of a kind that Walter Kerr points out in his book The Decline of Pleasure: “We are all of us compelled to read for profit, party for contacts, lunch for contracts, bowl for unity, drive for mileage, gamble for charity, go out for the evening for the greater glory of the municipality, and stay home for the weekend to rebuild the house.”
A more basic and radical method of raising the yield on time used in consumption is to increase the amount of consumer goods to be enjoyed per time unit. Just as working time becomes more productive when combined with more capital, so consumption time can give a higher yield when combined with more consumer goods. When this happens, the proportion between consumption goods and the time for consumption changes, so that the price of such time rises to the level of the price of time in production. Admittedly, no prices are openly quoted for time in consumption, but the individual will consciously or unconsciously apply in his actions and words what we can call a “shadow price” to consumption time. This price will go up in step with the productivity of work time.
A critical reader may object that the increasing volume of consumer goods will not necessarily raise the demand for consumption time, but rather the reverse. Many consumer goods, it is claimed, save time. If a household increases its consumption by buying a washing machine, for instance, then the machine will not claim any additional time. It is true that there are many goods of this type. This must be borne in mind when deciding what to classify as “consumer goods”. We normally mean all the goods bought by households. In the present study, however, we are considering a more limited category of goods. By “consumption goods”, which is the term we shall be using from now on, we mean the definite end products that are combined with time in an attempt to create material or spiritual well-being. Washing machines belong to that category of goods which increases productivity in working life – in this case the work performed within households. We should not make any sharp distinction between activities within households and in production. Many of the former are by nature identical with work in production. Whether productivity rises at places of work within production proper, or in the household, it will have the same effects. The scarcity of time in working life as a whole has increased, and the yield from time in consumption must be increased to create an equilibrium between the yield on time in different sectors. This takes place by an increase in the volume of consumption goods per time unit in consumption.
As already observed, scarce commodities are distributed over different sectors of use in accordance with the principles of economics. Changes in the scarcity of different resources lead to changes in the distribution of resources. These changes, too, follow economic laws. The consequences of an increasing scarcity of time can, therefore, be studied with simple tools borrowed from the practice of economic analysis.
A Basic Problem in Social Science
The analysis in the distribution of time, of changes in this distribution arising from economic growth, and of the implications of economic development under an increasing scarcity of time is not something of purely economic interest. It is rather a problem of more general interest, a joint problem for all the social sciences. The distribution of time and changes in this distribution are bound to affect our entire attitude to social problems, our entire philosophical outlook. An increasing scarcity of time is bound to color our basic attitude to time and pace. David M. Potter in People of Plenty has made the incipient superfluity of goods the starting point of speculations as to changes in the national character; the same can be done with the emerging scarcity of time.
A brief study of literature shows that workers in the different social sciences have in fact shown some interest in the problems of time. It is equally clear, however, that no concerted attack on the problem is being made. In social anthropology, a number of attempts have been made to describe attitudes to time in different cultures. However, many standard works on the subject fail to consider attitudes to time. At all events, hardly any generalizations have been made concerning the factors which determine disparities in time attitudes among different cultures.
The sociologists, for their part, have made great efforts to perform large-scale time-budget studies. They have tried to plot how different individuals or groups divide up their time between various activities. Particularly detailed studies have been made of the use of time spent outside the place of work, time which is devoted to a variety of different activities. However, the theories formed parallel to these studies have been of an ad hoc nature. Attempts at any systematic explanation of time allocation and changes in it are lacking. Because they have ignored the importance of a time scarcity in the economic sense for the time phenomena studies, the anthropologists and sociologists have never really been able to use their own results. It is possible that an analysis of time allocation could yield a dynamic theory for use in sociological predictions. It could be a useful tool in the study of the future, a field of research which affects an increasing amount of attention.
A theory on changes in the scarcity of time could perhaps also be of use in medical research on stress. Similar openings may exist in psychology, perhaps even more in psychiatry. The present writer has found an interest in questions of the type discussed in at least one psychiatric paper. The following quotation from Professor of Psychology John Cohen speaks for itself: “The reaction of animals under conditions of temporal constraint may help to understand human disorders in the tightly time-bound cultures of our day.”
It is hardly surprising that sociologists, for instance, have not come to regard the use of time as a problem of economizing with an increasingly scarce commodity. Such an approach, however, should be natural for that science which is devoted to the principles of allocating scarce resources, namely economics. Even so, a reasonable analysis of time is lacking in the economic literature. Economists typically regard consumption as an instantaneous act without temporal consequences. They regard time in working life as a scarce resource, parallel to which there exists some sort of undefined “free time”. As incomes rise, one would have increasing consumption, without any consequences to the time situation of the individual, other than a reduction in work time. This would give an increasing amount of “free time”. The supply would be increasing on all fronts.
By such a view, the distribution of time can never be made the subject of analysis with the tools of economic theory. It is indeed interesting to see how poorly incorporated free time is in economic theory. To give an example, one ambitious statistical study (by Gordon C. Winston) on the relationship between working time and level of income in different countries makes a distinction between the time used “either on the earning of income (work), or on a host of alternative noneconomic activities (leisure).” To speak of nonworking time as a noneconomic use of time is symptomatic. The very term free time suggests a failure to realize that consumption time is a scarce commodity.
That consumption is regarded as some sort of instantaneous act emerges most clearly from the fact that, when economists try to state the connection between the “utility” of certain commodity and the amount of that commodity available, they never take into account the time an individual has at his disposal to consume the commodity in question. In economic theory, the pleasure an individual can be expected to derive from a couple of theatre tickets is not taken to be dependent in any way on the time he can devote to playgoing. At most, economic writers take into account the time needed for consumption by pointing out that the utility of a product depends on the on the length of the time period within which it is to be enjoyed. :Different levels of satisfaction are derived from consuming ten portions of ice cream within one hour and within one month”. This point made by J. M. Henderson and R. E. Quandt in their textbook is, however, by no means sufficient. It is not enough to know whether portions of ice cream are to be consumed within a month or within a year. It is far more important to know how much time within a given period can be specifically devoted to enjoying the commodity whose contribution to our material well-being we are studying. If one has no time during a whole week to drink coffee, then obviously even whole sacks full of coffee will give no yield that week. Similarly, a tennis player has no use for a new racket each year, if he never has the time to play. The utility of theatre tickets cannot be established without knowing whether or not the ticket holder has time to use them. What makes the difference is not so much the period of time during which a given quantity of the commodity is available, but rather the time that is available during this period to consume the commodity in question.
Now that we have made these critical observations, we can note with satisfaction that a handful of economists has in recent years adopted a new position. Attention is beginning to be paid to the possibility that economic growth causes an increasing scarcity of time. The first, apparently, in this exclusive group was Roy Harrod, who published a short paper on this theme at the end of the fifties. However, no attention was paid to it by the profession and not even by its author either, since he has never followed up the ideas which he had presented. Harrod’s thesis was that we may in time be faced with a consumption maximum, owing to an increase scarcity of time, which is the result primarily of all the servicing and maintenance work require by consumption goods. It is Harrod’s idea, puzzling at first sight, which originally triggered the thinking of the present study.
One economist who has allowed for the fact that consumption takes time and as a result reached interesting results is Jacob Mincer. Only one economist, however, has attempted to formulate a general theory of time allocation. This is Gary Becker, whose work is presented in a paper published in 1965. The basic approach in this book and in Becker’s paper are the same. Even though work on this book had reached a relatively late stage before Becker’s paper became available, it has naturally been extremely valuable to be to utilize Becker’s line of thinking.
Why This Neglect of Time Analysis?
The absence of any theory of time allocation in the behavioral sciences must be blamed on economists who, being professionally concerned with the time allocation of scarce resources, should certainly have come regard time in this way. Instead, by ignoring the fact that consumption requires time, they have conveyed the opposite impression – that the use of time off the job is noneconomic phenomenon and that economic growth results in a decreasing scarcity of time. How can we explain this neglect on the part of the economists? In the absence of any entirely convincing or sufficient explanation, we can only suggest various possibilities. To begin with, there could be a historical reason. When the first economists defined their sphere of interest, the scarcity of time was hardly noticeable. The overriding problem was the scarcity of goods as a result of low productivity. It was, therefore, reasonable to speak of free time in the true economic sense, i. e., time without a price. Consumption goods were lacking, and marginal time was perhaps spent in enforced passivity. Fettered by an analytic tradition, economists have failed to see time as a scarce resource, even though the situation has radically changed.
It is also possible that the actual term economic growth is misleading. When we speak of economic growth, it is easy to think of growing economic opportunities in general. We imagine total, rather than partial, affluence. Obviously, such an erroneous picture will emerge more easily if we are unaware that consumption takes time, and we stare blindly at various statistical theories reporting that we not only have more and more goods but also more and more free time. Some people may also entertain a vague idea that there has been some sort of technological advance in consumption, so that the demand for time has remained constant. But insofar as any technological advances have been made on the consumer side, they must relate to the individual’s work in household. The effect of such technological advancements, however, are the same as in production proper. It is difficult to conceive of any technological advance being noted in the actual process of consumption. Productivity can be purchased only by an increase in the quantity of goods consumed per time unit, which means an increased scarcity of time.
Another possibility is that people have disregarded the claims made on consumption time because of certain basic conceptions of how our growing material affluence might be used. The optimistic view has prevailed that people would gradually be freed from toil and starvation, in order to devote themselves to cultivation of the mind and spirit in accordance with the ideals of classical antiquity. On these terms, what we now mean by consumption would take very little time. The economic target would be met as soon as we had reached a material level permitting uninterrupted philosophical exercises. Neither time nor material goods would be scarce commodities, the economic problem would vanish with the attainment of complete satisfaction in the embrace of the fine arts and beautiful thoughts. This picture has been belied by events. As economic development has continued, attractive alternative ways of using time have emerged. Meditation and speculation have been driven off the market. Whatever the cause, time has thus become de facto an increasingly scarce resource, without the economists having noticed this development.
The So-called “Leisure Problem”
Many will surely find it peculiar that economic development should result in an increasing scarcity of time. One imagines that the situation should be the reverse. Intellectuals of the rich countries fail to analyze the increasing scarcity of time, but instead devote a great deal of attention to the so-called leisure problem.
What in fact is this much publicized but undefined leisure problem? Does it mean that people, because of the shorter working week, have got so much time on their hands that they do not know what to do with it? This would mean that time had become less and less scarce, and that there is something ludicrously amiss with the whole basic idea of this book. Instead of an increasing scarcity of time we should have a surplus.
But even if the leisure problem can not be taken to mean that people do nothing, it may nonetheless exist. However, it then consists of some people busying themselves with nothingness – a problem which is not in conflict with the argument made in this essay.
The leisure problem of the economic type, however, probably exists only in imagination of those who are unaware that consumption takes time. If we take the position, like most economists, that consumption is instantaneous and that free time is some entirely isolated utility, then it is possible to draw peculiar conclusions. We can imagine, in this case, that we now have so much free time that we do not know what to do with it, and that certain parts of this time are reduced to what we have called economic free time. It may be that some people are in such a situation. They have a job, and they make a certain amount of money. This is used to purchase consumption goods, the enjoyment of which takes a certain time. When they have consumed these goods, people then spend the rest of their time in complete passivity. Such a model of life, however, would seem uncommon. If people have more time left over for consumption than they think they need, most of them surely take some form of extra work. This gives them more money which they can use in consumption and thus absorb consumption time. Insofar as they do not do this, it must mean that they have reached a maximum for their consumption. The existence of any such ceiling, however, is energetically denied, at least by economists and by psychologists interested in economics.
There is no guarantee, after all, that people will devote their time off the job to entirely laudable ends. On the contrary, it is probable that many people choose to expend their increasing resources in a manner injurious to themselves and their environment. Such individuals, however, are not idle. They can be extremely busy in all sorts of mischief. This is a very real problem, but it is obviously no leisure problem, in the sense that people do not know what to do with all their time. It is a social problem. The fact that people use their money in a dangerous way does not eliminate the need for economic theory. In the same way, the fact that people sometimes use their time in dangerous ways does not mean that we do not need a theory of time allocation.
It is obviously possible also to worry over the fact that so many people occupy themselves, if not with mischief, at least with such vacuous practices as reading comics and drinking Coca-Cola. This too is something that can lead people to talk of a leisure problem. For moral, ethical, cultural, or other reasons, they cannot accept the way in which others choose to use their time. Here again; we have a problem relating not to economic free time, but to the quality of our civilization. Superficial people in the rich countries are often in a greater hurry than anyone else. They are enormously busy, even if it is sometimes difficult to see with what.
There is another interpretation of what leisure problem might mean. Many have expressed the fear that, as there is less demand on the individual to contribute work, we shall loose something essential to personal human value. This is an important risk, and one that we must take into consideration when assessing what higher productivity is really given us. Here again, it is not a question of our nonworking time becoming economic free time. The underlying idea is simply that the compulsion to work confers a greater value on the individual than the freedom to consume. The problem is a psychological one.
It seems reasonable to draw the conclusion that leisure problems of a social, cultural, and psychological nature exist. But the average earner in the rich country lives nonetheless under the pressure of time. He is a member of the harried class.
A Framework of Discussion
In the economic land of dreams that many see as the end result of a long process of growth, the inherent thrift of nature would be overcome. It is only by a sort of optical illusion that one can imagine this meanness on nature’s part being eliminated in a material Utopia. In an economic heaven, the problem of time will be particularly pressing. We will find there an infinite volume of consumption goods, which pleasure-hungry angels will feverishly try to exploit during the limited time at their disposal per day. That one may in this heaven enjoy eternal life as a consumer fails to alter the situation. This can increase the total satisfaction derived over the course of centuries. What we are interested in, however, is the yield per time unit. To maximize this, time must be carefully stewarded by the servants of epicureanism.
To map the changes that economic growth will cause in the way we employ our time, it is convenient to classify time into different categories. Such a division of time into different areas of use could obviously be very detailed. Any minute classification, however, would be impractical. We will distinguish below between five different categories of time, each of which has been considered unequal from a philosophical point of view. Each of them is affected in different ways by economic growth.
The first category of time is working time or, more specifically, time spent working in specialized production. Such working time is of basic importance to the allocation of time. Like other activities, it claims time that could otherwise be spent in other ways. However, by its effect on the income level of the individual, it also influences the amount of time in demand for other activities. Work time is thus of twofold importance. It affects both the supply and the demand for time on other activities. As the level of productivity in working life changes, work time and the level of income send out impulses for the changes that can be made in allocation of time.
The second category we can call time for personal work. Personal work consists essentially of production of what we customarily term services. The boundaries between the production of services and goods are elusive, but it is usually drawn. In the industrialized countries, the production of goods is almost entirely specialized. A large production of services is also the result of specialized production. We are left, even so, with a considerable number of services to produce on our own. Even the members of Thorstein Velben’s golden leisure class, who by no means lacked economic resources to busy services, were surely reduced to providing many services for themselves. The scope of personal work of the average earner in a highly industrialized country is surely considerably greater. Personal work can be subdivided into the maintenance of goods and of one’s body (sleep, personal hygiene, etc.). We shall be interesting ourselves not only in the total time each individual devotes to personal work, but also to the average maintenance time devoted to consumption goods, i. e., the maintenance time per consumption good.
A third category is consumption time, i. e., the time, the existence of which we must be aware of, in order to see the use of time as an economic problem involving the allocation of limited resources. Just as with time for personal work, there is a correlation between increases in productivity and the demand for consumption time. Again in this case, we shall investigate the changes in consumption time per product.
The forth component comprises time devoted to the cultivation of mind and spirit, i. e., the various exercises to which the optimistic believers in progress had thought we would devote our affluence. The difference between consumption time and what, for the sake of brevity, we may call culture time is that consumption goods play a central role for consumption time, but only an incidental role for culture time. For this reason, these two time components are affected in different ways by any productivity increase in working life. The distinction between these two components is of even greater importance in that they have been so differently judged in discussions relating to the aims of the economic process.
Finally, we have a time component that is less specific in its nature. It is conceivable that people in the poor countries are subjected to free time in the strict sense of the word, i. e., time that is not utilized. Incomes are so low that people fail to obtain an economic level permitting anything except what we can call passivity during certain periods of the day. Such time can also occur in the rich countries during economic depressions. But even when economic circumstances are such that individuals are in a position to choose freely how they will distribute their time between work and other activities, there can still be what we can call “slacks” in the use of time. This finds expression in the pace at which time is used. If the scarcity of time is not particularly marked, people may find it reasonable to enjoy a relaxed life. We will call this fifth and last category of time idleness.
In Chapter II we shall discuss changes in idleness and in the pace of existence. Chapter
III contains a discussion of changes in work time. Chapter IV to VI discuss time for personal work. The last of these three chapters is devoted to changes in time for decision making. Consumption time is treated in Chapter VII and in Chapter VIII we will investigate changes in culture time. A more special problem is considered in Chapter IX, where we shall discuss the relationship between saving and time allocation. In Chapters II to XI we assume that per capita incomes are steadily increasing. In the three closing chapters (X to XII) we shall investigate how far the results of our time allocation analysis have affected the credibility of this assumption of continued economic growth. A list of notes and references is given at the end of the book. Certain arguments basic to the discussion are presented mathematically in an appendix.
The disappearance of Idleness
We may note at this point the differences in
the value and calibration of time among peoples
at different levels of culture.
An Increasing Degree of Utilization
The scope of idleness depends on the level of income. If incomes are low, there can be long periods of enforced idleness or passivity. Individuals will then have at their disposal economic free time in the true sense. They are waiting for Godot. At a higher level of income we find voluntarily chosen idleness, which is reflected in people taking life easy and finding this enjoyable. The pace of life is rapid. But as incomes continue to rise, the demand for yield on the use of time increases. As a result, fewer and fewer “slacks” will be tolerated. The degree to which time is actively utilized will increase. The pace of life will quicken.
The economic reasons for these changes are easy to discern. Time spent in idleness, unlike actively utilized time, cannot give a higher yield by being combined with more consumption goods. By definition, idleness is time spent without other consumption goods. In some way, however, the yield must also be raised on this type of time. As shown in an “equation of hecticness” in the mathematical appendix, one will, in order to achieve this, reduce such time and transfer bits of it to active use. In this way, the faster the pace becomes, the greater will be the yield on time still spent in idleness. Now positions of equilibrium in the allocation of time can be reached in this way as incomes rise.
It is not difficult, in practice, to find radical discrepancies in the conception of time among different cultures. There also seems to be a clear connection between level of income and the role played by time and its exploitations. If this is the case, then one should draw entirely different conclusions from those customarily drawn in the anthropological literature, which describes such discrepancies as due to difference in cosmological concepts and technological development. To develop this idea further, we can distinguish among three different types of cultures, namely cultures with time surplus, cultures with a time affluence, and cultures suffering from a time famine.
Cultures with a Time Surplus
Cultures with a superfluity of time are to be found in the poorest countries. Productivity is so low that a certain proportion of time yields nothing whatsoever. Such cultures have no great need of precision in reckoning and measuring time. We find there a mañana (tomorrow in Spanish) attitude, with no detailed planning for either today or tomorrow. In fact, what we in the rich countries mean by times is a concept difficult to translate into the languages of these cultures. In the rich countries, a time surplus can also exist if the demand for labor is low, as during a depression. Handicapped individuals who are excluded from the labor market and the growth process, and who consequently have low incomes, also may experience a time surplus.
Obviously, it is difficult in practice to determine whether or not a given amount of time per day is economic free time. The boundary is difficult to draw. Even so, for analytic purposes we may consider as a difference in kind what may be a difference in degree. Time which gives no yield need not be spent, literally, in complete passivity. Various kinds of hidden unproductive time can occur. The literature on the underdeveloped countries, for instance, speaks fairly frequently of “disguised underemployment.” Such underemployment exists if a reduction in working time does not reduce production. It has been claimed that this is one characteristic of agriculture in the underdeveloped countries. This view has not gone uncriticized, but most of the criticism directed against the notion of hidden unemployment in the agriculture of these countries is related to the cavalier conclusions drawn from it with respect to economic policy.
Unemployment or underemployment in the often fast growing cities in these countries is more overt. The shantytowns are jam-packed with people who spend at least part of their day in enforced idleness. This may take the form of fruitless attempts on the part of some people to find gainful employment while others resign themselves to begging. A stuporous passivity is one way of passing such enforced economic free time. One way of promoting economic free time to a higher status is to devote it to improving one’s chances of a better life in the next world. One can designate a large number of days as holy days, or “holidays,” in the original sense of the word. It has been pointed out that the number of such holidays is greater in the poor countries than in the rich, and that on the road to riches a country gradually eliminates more and more holidays, reducing the amount of economic free time. “It should be remembered too that throughout antiquity and the Middle Ages the normal number of holidays during the year was about 115,” writes Ida Craven. As the need for consumption time in the rich countries became marked, the holy days became holidays or vacations – an entirely different category of time from our point of view.
An interesting picture of how the attitude to time in poor cultures differs from what we are used to is given by the anthropological literature. We can only regret that the mapping of different cultures’ conceptions of time is not, to judge from the literature, taken as a very important task of anthropological research.
One rewarding source is a report compiled by a team under the leadership of Margaret Mead. This team performed a number of comparative anthropological studies, also including attitudes to time. We can see what enormous differences exist in these respects between, on the one hand,
and the Spanish-American subcultures in the Burma , and on the other hand, the rich countries. Differences between the two poor cultures with respect to time concepts appear to be small. The degree of utilization of time is in both cases low. We are told, for instance, how Burmese have various simple methods of measuring time, how Spanish-American abstain from regulating their existence by clocks, and how they plan their future time only vaguely, or not at all. United States
Edward T. Hall has made the same sort of observation in his book The Silent Language: “[With] the people of the Middle East … it is pointless to make an appointment too far in advance, because the informal structure of their time system places everything beyond a week into a single category of ‘future’, in which plans tend to ‘slip off their minds’.”
As regards the lack of any time concept corresponding to that in the rich countries, no one could be more explicit than Evans-Pritchard in his study of the Nuer (a pastoral people living in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan):
Though I have spoken of time and units of time Nuer have no expression equivalent to time in our language, and they cannot, therefore, as we can, speak of time as though it were something actual, which passes, can be wasted, can be saved, and so forth. I do not think that they ever experienced the same feeling of fighting against time or of having to co-ordinate activities with an abstract passage of time, because their points of reference are mainly the activities themselves, which are generally of a leisurely character. Events follow a logical order, but they are not controlled by an abstract system, there being no autonomous points of reference to which activities have to conform with precision. Nuer are fortunate.
The concept of time among the Tiv in
has been studied by Paul Bohannan. He emphasizes also that time is a word very difficult to translate, that time is indicated on the basis of natural phenomena, or social events, instead of within a chronological system, and that “thus although Tiv indicate time by direct association of two events, and though they count recurrent natural units such days, markets, moons, and dry seasons, they do not measure time.” Nigeria
These and similar observations from many different cultures can be given a uniform explanation within the framework of a time allocation theory. The level of income is extremely low, and time is, therefore, not scarce.
The Affluence Cultures
Cultures with an adequate supply of time occupy a middle position. A process of economic growth has started, and the level of incomes has been doubled or tripled. The pace of life has, therefore, increased, but it has not yet become hectic. The long stretches of economic free time have all disappeared. Certain slacks in the use of time remain, however. Methods of measuring time have been improved., but the clock is not yet a tyrant. There us also a certain, but not yet detailed, planning of the use of time. Poor Richard’s statement in his almanack that “Those who use their time the worst, will be the first to complain about its shortness” begins to apply.
Let us consider what author Vilhelm Moberg has to say of his childhood in the early part of this century, i. e., in a
where the general level of income had not yet attained any great heights: Sweden
No one in my childhood was in a hurry. They did quite a lot of work, usually very hard work, but they never gave evidence of haste. When I left this environment in due course and returned to the home of my parents on a visit, my father observed my nervous unrest and asked: Why in such a hurry, boy? You’ll get to your grave in time, like everyone else.
One feature of Japanese life which makes adjustment in the later years rather easier than it is in some societies is the concept of time and its scheduling in Japanese society. The Japanese are not tyrannized by the clock, nor is there an emphasis on scheduling of activities. Both work and leisure-time activities tend to follow an unpredictable pattern. Japanese white-collar workers, for example, think little of working extra hours or even through the night without extra compensation if requested to do so. Meals are not necessarily eaten on a schedule, and missing a meal is no great tragedy. The approach to appointments is notoriously casual, and it is worth pointing out that a guest may arrive before or after a casually agreed-upon hour. Pre-arrangement of appointments is not considered essential, for it is expected that everyone’s schedule is sufficiently flexible to permit him to adjust his activities to any emergency which may rise. Not even the changes wrought by the last hundred years of industrialization have completely altered this picture.
We can also quote the Mead report again. This offers some interesting information on attitudes to time in
, another country which is neither rich or poor. Greece
Greeks ‘pass’ the time; they do not save or accumulate or use it. And they are intent on passing the time, not on budgeting it. Although city people say that this picture is changing, that they are now made aware of the need to use time, the attitude is still widely prevalent, even in the area of private life among the urban groups.
The clock is not master of the Greek: it does not tell him to get up, go to the field. In most villages, in spite of recent changes, the peasants still get up at sunrise or dawn to go to the field, and return at sundown. The day is made for work. At night women visit and gossip; men join them or go to the coffee house; there is storytelling and ardent political discussion; and as for any work done after dark, ‘the day takes a look at it and laughs.’ Wherever, in the cities he now functions under clocked time, because he comes under government and union. … It is distasteful to Greeks to organize their activities according to external limits; they are therefore either early or late, if a time is set at all. At church the people are not impatient while waiting for Mass to begin; and the church fills only gradually. They know when to go to church; yet when a foreign visitor inquires as to the time of certain Mass, the subject creates a discussion; and eventually the answer will be something like: ‘Between 2 and 3.’ And when Greeks who follow their traditional ways invite, they say, not ‘Come at ,’ but ‘Come and see us.’ To arrive to dinner on time is an insult, as if you came just for the food. You come to visit, and the dinner eventually appears. Among urbanized Greeks, this custom now seems burdensome, and there are many cartoons on the subject.
The dinner is not planned to appear at a predetermined time; and the housewife does not cook by the clock. She tells by the smell or the consistency, or the colour, or the resistance against the stirring spoon; or the passing of time is gauged by the intervening activities …
Greek men and women work expeditiously, as a rule, but do this best at their own rhythm; any need to hurry is external and interfering; it introduces fuss and disturbance. Efficiency can usually be found when it is not a conscious end.
To introduce an awareness of time into a meal is particularly abhorrent to Greeks, though this has to be done where factories set time limits. Dinner is served when it is ready, and nuts are not shelled, the fruit is not sliced. The eater will spend a long time removing infinitesimal bits of flesh from the head of a small fish. All this is part of the process of eating, which is more than the naked act of consumption … Greeks in the city, in some circles, find the need of hurry entering their lives. They are not at homes with it. For the Greek traditionally, to work against time, to hurry, is to forfeit freedom. His term for hurry means, originally, to correct oneself …
In spite of the prevalence of timepiece, the church bell and the school bell, and even a cannon blast, continue to have active functions in calling adults or children to pre-arranged gathering or communal village work. Even in the cities, people are called ‘Englishmen’ when they turn up on the dot at meetings or appointments. People often arrive an hour late to an appointment to find that the other person is also just arriving, or, if they find him gone, they usually accept the fact with neither apology nor frustration.
In our attempt to understand the influence of income increase on the scarcity of time, and thus on the mode of life, it is particularly interesting to see the changes in attitude to time occurring in the cities, changes to which the report gives special emphasis. The level of income is probably higher in the cities, co that the growing scarcity of time is first felt there.
Time Famine Cultures
Walter Kerr has expressed his surprise at the increasing tempo of life as follows: “Isn’t it odd that a century which should, by all rights, be the most leisurely in all history is also known to be, and condemned for being, the fastest?”
What has happened is that in the rich countries all slacks in the use of time have been eliminated, so far as is humanly possible. The attitude to time is dedicated entirely by the commodity’s extreme scarcity. The day of the sluggard is over. “Personal administration” has become important. We may not be terribly good at it, but we are aware that it is a desirable skill. The pocket calendar becomes our most important book. Its loss causes the owner himself to feel lost. Punctuality has become a virtue that we demand of those around us. Waiting is a squandering of time that angers people in rich countries. Only personal mismanagement, or the inconsiderate behavior of others, will create belief – and highly irritating – periods of involuntary idleness. People are dominated by their awareness of the clock. They are haunted by their knowledge that shining moments are passing without things having been done. The clock in
Times Square shows what second it is to those hurrying by. As George Woodcock has pointed out, we live under the tyranny of the clock. This tyranny has developed, step by step, with our successful revolution against the dictatorship of material poverty.
This description of a culture suffering from a time famine may seem exaggerated, and so it may be, if it is only seen as a description of present conditions. It will become increasingly accurate as the level of income continues to rise. Even now, it fits many environments. An insight into time attitudes and the mode of life to which they give rise in the rich countries can be obtained from a book like
, the result of five years’ intensive study of life in a wealthy Canadian suburb. The three authors J. R. Seeley, R. A. Sim, and E. W. Loosley are sociologists and psychologists. They devote one chapter to describing attitudes to time. The picture that emerges give us a vivid idea of life in a time famine culture. Crestwood Heights
In Crestwood Heights time seems almost the paramount dimension of existence … An urban population with its ramifying interdependencies is almost compelled to adopt synchronized schedules … His wife has her own activities outside the home which are carefully scheduled … The children have their school – which demands punctuality – scheduled appointments with dentists and dancing teachers, and numerous social activities. Home life is indeed often hectic … But the very nature of secondary group life beyond the primary, family circle can hardly permit too much of this simplicity, and the resultant schedules are so demanding that the parents feel themselves constantly impelled to inculcate the virtues of punctuality and regularity in themselves and the child, at meal hour, departures for picnics, and such occasions. … The activity promoted by the institution [church, book club, and the like] is regulated by the clock, and the schedule of one institution, unless it is definitely raiding the time and clientele of the others, must be fitted to the schedule of others within an inevitably tight competition for time … The phenomenon which the Crestwooder calls ‘pressure’ is caused by this concentration of demands into limited units of time. A mother will say ‘I get so I can’t cope with everything.’ No one is more admired than the person who is ‘never ruffled,’ who keeps the flow steady … The ubiquitous desk calendar and appointment book facilitate this flow.
A lot of similar material could be quoted. The reader may be interested – and surprised – to learn that Stockholmers are so interested in keeping an eye on the time that they made in 1966 no fewer than eighteen million telephone calls to “Miss Time,” or about fifteen calls per capita. The number of calls per apparatus 1955-65 increased from eighteen to twenty-two, although the number of apparatus during this period increased more than did the number of individuals. This circumstances and corresponding figures from other countries and towns suggest that the majority of readers has personal experience of life by a strict timetable.
In Praise of Idleness
The anthropological and sociological material that we have quoted at least does not gainsay the thesis that a dwindling scarcity of goods entails an increasing scarcity of time, and that these relative changes leave deep marks in a society’s mode of life. What are we to think of this increasing tempo? Our ultimate judgement, if such a thing is possible, must be deferred until we have had occasion to study in more detail the effects of economic development or the uses of time in other respects than this increasing tempo of life. Even at this stage, however, there is reason to make certain limited comments on what the increase in tempo may mean.
We can note, to begin with, that it entails certain risks of an actual decline in the efficiency with which time is used. One can obtain blocking phenomena of the same type as when traffic routes are overloaded. Too many vehicles crowd together and prevent each other’s movements. Time is a route into which we can try to press so much that traffic is jammed even to chaos.
An alternative way of seeing these difficulties is as disruptions resulting from overemployment. Full employment of our time capacity is perhaps a good thing, but there may also occur a form of overfull employment which is ineffective – just as on the labor market overfull employment can lead to a less productive use of resources. At the personal level, this means a risk of stress. A fully packed schedule can lead to our jumping from one task to another and actually performing less than would otherwise be possible. In the worst case – and this is no uncommon thing in a time famine – people die an early death from overstrain and insufficient time instead of, as previously, from a shortage of goods. deaths are now caused by high productivity, not low productivity.
The ability to administrate one’s resources of time effectively varies enormously between individuals. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that people in a society suffering from a time famine greatly admire those who are capable of maintaining a high tempo without breaking down. Recall that the idea in Crestwood Heights was to be “unruffled”. There is a parallel here in labour market. The meaning of overfull employment will depend largely on how the labor market is organized. With a smoothly functioning labor market, it may be possible to reach very high employment levels without disruptions. On a badly functioning labor market, even 95 per cent employment can cause trouble.
But a high tempo entails a sort of risk other than the risk of inefficiency. There is a real danger that our ability to enjoy all our material utilities will decline in step with our efforts to increase the yield of available time by a more hectic tempo. As they become subjected to the pressure of the time famine, many people feel a Rousseauesque longing for the more tranquil past. The pace and manner of life in Greece as Margaret Mead describes it seems attractive to many people, although through living in a harried culture, they are aware how difficult it would be to try to apply such a style of life in their own environment. Some people experience the pressure of time so strongly that they believe those with a superfluity of time – and thus a poverty of goods – to have been, or to be, happier. Evans Pritchard’s statement, already quoted, that “Nuer are fortunate,” since they do not suffer any pressure of time, is symptomatic.
This is something on which everyone must form his own opinion. We must be careful, however, not to adopt inconsistent points of view. The tempo of life in poor countries is admittedly humane, but other conditions are not. Freedom from a poverty of time, is not freedom from all poverty. On the contrary, economic free time in the old days was often spent in mental convulsions of misery. The elimination of such economic free time must be taken as an actual target for a growth process and not simply as an adjustment to increased productivity. We must be careful no to conceive a mythical society in which the material riches of “The Hectic Society” are somehow combined with the superfluity of time existing in material poor cultures. The two are apparently incompatible.
Is there any possibility of steering between Scylla and Charybdis? Probably there is. But this presupposes that people desire to spend their time in a way that does not involve consumption centered upon goods. If the entire economic process were something subsidiary, something that it might be possible to disengage from material activities, then it would be conceivable to achieve our economic targets rapidly, in order to devote ourselves thereafter to matters outside economic analysis. We would then have achieved complete satisfaction of our material wants. We would find ourselves in an intermediate position with fewer goods, but as many as we needed; and plenty of time, but with sufficient economic resources to devote it to non-economic matters. This, however, is not the road we have taken. Bertrand Russell, in his essay, “In praise of Idleness,” regrets that we have chosen what he believes to be a ridiculous course. He urges us to see economic progress as a means that can release us from the economic process and permit “idleness”, i. e., idleness of the sort devoted to cultivation of the mind. Instead, he says, we are allowing higher productivity to lead to a growing number of material objects, all of which make their demands on us. Russell regrets that we are learning to make twice as many pins in a given time and not to make a given quantity of pins in half the time. This, however, is bound to happen if we have a consumption centered upon goods and see before us a possibility of raising the yield on our time resources by intensifying consumption when increased incomes so permit. This is Russell’s complaint: “There was formerly a capacity for light-heartedness and play which has been to some extent inhibited by the cult of efficiency. The modern man thinks that everything ought to be done for the sake of something else, and never for its own sake.”